CANNABIS Marijuana edibles have come a long way in a short time.
Just a few years ago, the norm was still brownies of uncertain dosage that tasted like eating weed, right down to the occasional stem or lump of leaf, served in a wax paper envelope. But now the foodies have gotten into the game, producing a huge variety of tasty treats that are incredibly delicious even before the munchies kick in.
San Francisco could be on the verge of a culinary revolution that would parallel those being experienced in the realms of boutique eateries, gourmet coffee, and high-end street food vendors — except for the fact that makers of cannabis edibles still reside in a legal limbo.
As long as they're operating under the umbrella of a cannabis collective, getting marijuana from its growers and selling through its dispensaries, then the weed bakers are in compliance with state law. But they're still illegal under federal law, and even California law doesn't allow them to operate independently as wholesalers, making it difficult to scale up operations and do more than just break even financially.
Judging from the skittishness of some of San Francisco's top edibles producers — who didn't want to be identified by their real names and were wary of letting us know too much about their operations — they perform this labor of love under a cloud of understandable paranoia.
"Unfortunately, secrecy is a rule we have to live by, day in and day out," said the founder of Auntie Dolores, who we'll call Jay. She makes a line of popular, strong, and yummy products that include pretzels, chili lime peanuts, caramel corn, and cookies of all kinds.
Yet the legal threats haven't stopped producers from professionalizing the edibles industry — in terms of quality control, packaging, consistency, and innovation — and drawing on foodie sensibilities and their own culinary training to develop creative new products that effectively mask or subtly incorporate that bitter cannabis taste.
"We're all about masking the flavor of the cannabis because I really don't like the flavor that much," Jay said of products that are stronger than most but somehow without a hint of weed in them. "People here have a high standard. It's their medicine and their food, and we have a lot of foodies who are really into our products."
Choco-Potamus is an example of this new generation of edibles, combining gourmet chocolate-making with the finest strains of cannabis, using only the best buds rather than the leaves and other plant matter that have often gone into edibles. Mrs. Hippo, the pseudonym of the chief baker, has worked for a national company in the food industry for about a decade, mostly doing branding, and it shows in this eye-catching product.
"I'm kind of a foodie. We have friends who roast whole pigs and brew their own beer, that kind of thing," she said. "Really good high-grade marijuana has some really great flavor qualities, particularly when combined with cocoa. I really want the patients to enjoy the flavor, not just the feeling."
EAT YOUR MEDICINE
Steve DeAngelo, founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, one of the Bay Area's biggest dispensaries, said edibles have been increasingly popular, particularly among older users, patients with medical conditions that make smoking problematic, or those who prefer the longer body highs of eating it.
"Our sales of edibles has trended steadily upward since we opened," DeAngelo said, noting that last year the club sold $1.2 million in edibles, about 5.5 percent of total sales, compared to $306,000 (3.2 percent) after they opened in 2006. "As an absolute amount, we've seen the amount of edibles quadruple in the last four and a half years. As percentage of sales, we've seen it double."